Institutionalising Lived Experience in the Public Policy Process

Fig. 10.1
The policy cycle (ROAMEF) of the UK government Treasury

As noted above, evidence is required for each of these stages. Hallsworth et al. (Ibid.), however, provide a critique of this rationalist approach to policy, concluding:

In this ‘ROAMEF’ cycle, each stage follows on rationally from the previous one, so that a rationale is developed, then objectives are set, then options are appraised. The ROAMEF cycle presents policy making as a controllable sequence where ‘the government’ produces a ‘policy’ that addresses a clear goal. The policy represents a set of planned actions that are then implemented, with monitoring to assess the extent to which the goal was fulfilled. The framework is technocratic, with politics, values and events seen as external ‘noise’ that needs to be minimised.

The ‘ROAMEF’ cycle represents a rationalist approach as applied to policy, which may be termed ‘policy as prescription’, that is, it is formulated by and handed down from government. You, the reader, will note from reading Chap. 9 that, unsurprisingly, we take a similar view to that of Hallsworth et al. of this approach which attempts to place it outside of politics. For us, it simply does not correspond with real-world policy processes. In recognition of this, Hallsworth et al’s report is titled ‘Policy making in the real world’ in order to contrast its argument with the neat diagram of Fig. 10.1. The policy cycle is, therefore, a myth, or at best aspiration, of evidence-based rationality and technicality that governments all over the world wish to promote to show that they are in charge and capable of wise decisions. As a forthcoming paper in the Journal of International Development (JID) states, the rationalist policy cycle facilitates ‘the circulation of a “public transcript” which promotes the idea of measured and thoughtful practice’.1 It is to reinforce and provide authority to this public transcript that government may wish to incorporate evidence garnered from analysis of lived experiences.

Beyond the above considerations, there are undoubtedly many specific aspects of the governmentality argument that provide particular reasons why Government might wish to institutionalise lived experience into policy making. Here are two examples to end Sect. 10.2.1.

First, climate change is arguably affecting people adversely in many parts of the world now in terms of rising sea levels and weather variability. Evidence from physical science, however, deals primarily with what happens over time on a generalised scale. It concerns to a lesser degree particular, current events where, with respect to weather, scientists insist that they are unable to relate any single event to climate (Chap. 3). Thus, the headline concern and public bias of climate physical scientists is to produce scenarios of a future where the earth continues to warm by x, y or z degrees, with projected impacts of p, q and r. As a correction to this bias, Governments have good reason to institutionalise narrations of lived experiences. They provide a reality check on what is happening now, including the impacts of current attempts to mitigate and adapt. That is what articulation of lived experience is primarily—making sense of the present and projecting it into the future in terms of our experience to date.

Second, especially in poorer countries, institutionalising lived experience is a way of finding out about local ‘below the radar’ innovations that vulnerable people and communities across the world are making to adapt now to climate change that is already affecting them. Meanwhile, government institutions move slowly where innovation is not their strong point, while the private sector is much faster at innovating in response to market signals but has a more major underlying motive in the form of maximising profit. In this context, community-based adaptations (Chap. 5) are a useful demonstration of what is being done in the present, usually on low budgets. In effect, they are about innovating to achieve more from less.

10.2.2 The Private Sector

As sellers of goods and services, private sector firms, big and small, are seen everywhere by governments, supranational bodies such as the European Union and mainstream economists to play a key role in climate change policy implementation. This is for two main reasons.

First, by definition the private sector consumes a great deal of energy and therefore collectively creates a large carbon footprint, which needs to be brought down. Second, it constitutes the main means of delivering carbon-friendly technologies, goods and services for the rest of us. In short, private sector firms need to be incentivised to innovate. The favoured incentive, at least of the affluent countries, is to put an international price on carbon emissions to correct for the ‘market failure’ of climate change (Chap. 6, Sect. 6.3). For example,

If public actions and policies give the right signals and rewards for cutting greenhouse gases, then markets and entrepreneurship will drive the response. The bulk of the action will be in the private sector – this is not about a return to government control and rigid planning: on the contrary it is about enabling markets and private-sector initiative to work well.

(Stern 2010: 99).

Thus, the private sector, like Government, will have an interest in knowing where the public is really at because:

  • It needs to know the public as consumers and what they are prepared to do (and maybe sacrifice) in terms of purchasing carbon-friendly products and services.

  • Companies will gain greater clarity of public issues and the political difficulties that lie ahead. This might seem counter-intuitive—surely institutionalising knowledge of lived experience in government will muddy the already murky waters of policy making still further, it will be argued. However, such knowledge might actually help clarify government policy, just as it helps clarify marketing of products. In the language of business, the policy cycle will potentially be a more efficient process. It will also generate some useful market research findings.

10.2.3 Scientists Across the Social and Natural Divides

Why should scientists of all subjects and disciplines that have an input to climate change debates wish to institutionalise lived experience as a legitimate knowledge input to the policy making process? Paradoxically, it potentially creates a space for scientists themselves to communicate their knowledge to members of the public. Many now understand the limitations of older approaches, such as the knowledge deficit model which posits that the public does not engage with climate change because of lack of information and understanding that results from poor communication of the science. Consequently, they are looking to more dialogic approaches in order to put their message across. For example, the edited volume of Jaeger et al. (2012) that we discussed in Chaps. 6 and 7 was written by 17 natural and social scientists and from their scientific perspectives as it sought to move the debate on climate change communication towards finding ‘win–win’ solutions.

Engaging in dialogue with the public, however, means acceptance of the validity of its experiential knowledge. Engaging in that knowledge may also help scientists understand the increasing public mistrust of science (see subsection on civil society below) to provide answers, and to win back that trust as earned. A further gain for scientists is that engaging with lived experiences will bring them greater understanding of the policy process on climate change. Above all, it will help them to understand that the policy process is not a matter of simply enacting the logical conclusion of the science.

Beyond these general observations, there are of course many disciplines of science that might, or might not, have a particular subject interest in institutionalising lived experience as a legitimate form of climate change knowledge. Thus:

Physical scientists who work on climate change are unlikely to have a direct subject interest in lived experiences. They deal with energy balances and transfers, circulation of air and ocean currents, and absorption properties of atmospheric gases.

Life scientists are concerned with the impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems of plants and animals, but not directly on humans (although these changes will in turn affect humans). They too are unlikely to have a direct subject interest in lived experiences.

Psychologists who work on climate change are interested in human behaviour in relation to the challenge. They potentially, therefore, have a subject interest in lived experiences, although many are primarily concerned with behaviour with respect to the cognitive functions of the brain rather than the social influences on behaviour.

Social scientists of all connected disciplines have a potential subject interest in lived experiences as they explore the known and probable economic and social impacts of climate change, its differentiation between social and geographical groups, and the societal responses to it. Sociologists and anthropologists will have a special direct interest—some may even be researchers of lived experience if not of climate change, then of other contexts, for example of poverty and of health care.

10.2.4 Engineers

Engineers and physical scientists are often put together for what they share, which is a foundation in scientific principles. Their respective worldviews are, however, different in important aspects and the reason why engineers might like to see lived experience institutionalised in climate change discussions is likewise different. Thus, physical scientists by definition are concerned with the physical, not the human, world. Their research may lead to practical application eventually, but their daily work is usually outside of that context. Engineers, on the other hand, work at the sharp end of practice, they are the practical problem solvers, the ones who will ultimately design and implement the practical interventions on climate change—the clean energy technologies, processes and products.

This difference means that engineers tend to appreciate the professional challenge and gain professional satisfaction from working in the ‘real world’ to solve problems, away from the laboratory that is beloved of physical scientists. The ‘real world’, however, is full of people as well as ‘things’, people whom they have to engage repeatedly in their daily work. Engaging with lay people and their lived experiences in turn forces them to ask fundamental questions of themselves concerning why they do what they do.

Reflection on these considerations takes them back to the roots of their profession. For example, Johnson and Wilson (2007, 2009a), Wilson and Johnson (2007) interviewed British environmental health engineers who were in partnership with Ugandan counterparts. The work of these British engineers in Uganda forced them to ‘throw away the book’ and return to first principles. One interviewee said that the experience took him back to the great public health works in water and sanitation in the nineteenth century that were associated with a large drop in the incidence of disease and child mortality in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2007, 2008). Their engagements with lay lived experiences during a consultation exercise with Ugandan citizens and other professionals also induced a degree of humility, as they realised that this is not simply an ‘engineering problem and solution, and this is how we’re going to do it… being able to get local people to support us—the community, the disabled… This is a better way and it questions the whole foundations on which you stand’ (Wilson and Johnson 2007).

10.2.5 Civil Society

By Civil Society we mean the public that engages with the world beyond its own private interests. In practice it refers largely to active citizens and citizen groups who, in the process of engaging with the world, inevitably bring their own lived experiences to bear.

Why should active citizens and citizen groups wish to institutionalise their lived experiences as legitimate knowledge inputs to the public policy making process on climate change? Here are five interrelated reasons:


The increasing mistrust of politicians, scientists and other expertise, at least in affluent countries, to arrive at rational, objective and disinterested decisions on behalf of the population at large (Hulme 2010a; also Chaps. 3 and 4). Institutionalising lived experience provides the space, therefore, for citizens to confront through a different form of knowledge, politicians, scientists and other experts who currently provide inputs to the policy process. It challenges the once-ascribed authority of these people and demands that any authority is henceforth earned.



Active citizens might feel the need to add a humanly felt, perhaps emotional, dimension to give meaning to societal impacts of climate change as explored by the social sciences.



They might see opportunity to connect lived experience of climate change to their experience of other pressing social issues such as poverty, inequality and vulnerability. In other words, institutionalising the lived experience of climate change potentially enables active citizens to link to, and press the case for, addressing other real contemporary problems in tandem, as advocated by, among others, Hulme (2009, 2010b), Jaeger et al. (2012). See also Chap. 7.



As we saw in Chap. 5 and in Sect. 10.2.1 above, many communities in poorer countries that are vulnerable to climate change already have to innovate and make their own adaptations with whatever resources they have. Institutionalising lived experience of climate change demonstrates their agency, that with appropriate resources they are able to act to help themselves. It may also help lever greater financing for poor communities to innovate and create their own adaptations, which we saw in Chap. 5 was a key topic of the 2014 Community-based Adaptation annual conference in Nepal.



The fifth, more general, reason that active citizens and citizen groups might wish for government institutionalisation of lived experience is that it provides a space for political empowerment within the policy making process. The knowledge they bring of lived experience is legitimised and their views are sought. Critics may argue (see Sect. 10.3 below) that such empowerment is illusory, but it is not as clear-cut as that. Besides, whether illusory or not, that active citizens and citizen groups might simply view institutionalisation as empowering could be one of the benefits they at least perceive.


10.2.6 Us, the Authors of This Book

We should state at the outset that we do not reject any of the possible reasons for institutionalising lived experience that we have attributed to different groups above. This may appear strange at times. For example, that experts from Government and elsewhere might wish to extract data from analysis of lived experiences of populations for purposes of governmentality (Sect. 10.2.1) is not well received in much academic literature. Implied is that extracting data in this way is exploitative. In relation to citations that have already appeared in this book, see Chap. 5 and references that concern data extraction within participatory practices, notably: Chambers (1997: 111, 214), Cooke and Kothari (2001), Craig and Porter (2003) and Rakodi (2000).

For us, however, whether or not data extraction is in reality a feature of exploitive relationships depends on various factors. These include: the feelings of the target population about being used for data; feelings about the transparency of those who extracted it concerning their motives; how the data is used; and whether those from whom data has been extracted have been able to gain knowledge in return. We are not, therefore, seeking perfection in these matters. Most important to us are the spaces that are opened by institutionalising lived experience whatever the motives of government or other actors.

Below are the distinctive reasons why we favour institutionalising lived experience in policy making. They sometimes overlap with, while going beyond, those for other actors that have been suggested above.

Thus, we suggest that institutionalising lived experience in policy making opens a space that potentially:

  • Exposes the politics and power relations at play to those whose lived experiences are being institutionalised. Citizen participants in the process start to realise how power and knowledge work in these situations. Realisation is the first step towards challenge and reclaiming the power of citizens to set the public agenda with respect to climate change. Meanwhile, the very institutionalisation process accords their lived experiential knowledge some authority and hence power. Citizens understand that their consent is needed and that no power is absolute, equally no powerlessness is absolute. They come to understand, by direct experience, policy making as a political process.

  • Includes the diversity, not just of scientific forms of knowledge on climate change, but of non-scientific, ‘common sense’ forms. From inclusion of diversity we may then move towards exploring it as a resource for joint learning and broader, deeper knowledge. The next step then would be to institutionalise engagement between different epistemic groups—between diverse lived experiences, between diverse scientific disciplines, and between lived experiences and the sciences. From there we may also move from learning from one another (which leads to mutual data and information extraction) to understanding one another and learning with one another (Wilson 2006, 2007, 2008).

  • Exposes the dominant frames within which climate change debates are constructed. Examples of current frames include:

    • climate change as an extended battle or war that requires sacrifice;

    • climate change as representing a catastrophic market failure where efforts must be focused on obtaining an international agreement to put a price on carbon emissions;

    • the public as having little will to know and act on climate change (see next bullet).

  • These and other frames were presented in Chap. 7. Foucault (1980) called such overarching frames ‘regimes of truth’ or dominant discourses within which debates are conducted. Debates-within-frames could, for example, be over the acceptable level of sacrifice by current generations that is needed to win the war; the incentives that are needed in development aid to poor countries to bring them on board; and the lessons we might learn from the media or marketing departments about how to engage the public.

  • Exposure, however, potentially breeds challenge to these overarching frames/regimes of truth/discourses. Foucault (Ibid.) pointed out that they do not just emerge, they come from somewhere. They are in fact constructed out of a complex negotiation between actors, and the relations and sources of power between them, to arrive at a ‘correct’ narrative that represents the truth.

  • Key to establishing the current national climate change frames/regimes of truth/discourses have been government, the energy sector of the economy, physical scientists and mainstream economists. Yet we should not consider them as inviolable, they have evolved from something and they will doubtless evolve into something else. For example, in the European Union from about 2007 a dominant frame/regime of truth/discourse has been that tackling climate change can bring positive impacts to the regional economy in terms of jobs, prosperity and energy security (that is, its energy sources not being beholden to foreign oil exporters from Russia and the Middle East). This truth/discourse/frame then creates an imperative: the European Union must modernise its economy towards one that is not so energy intensive and concentrate instead on developing renewable energy and green products, while investing in the necessary human skills. It is a truth/frame/discourse that can be seen in part as trying to win over a public to climate action through accommodating its needs and expectations, at least in terms of public rhetoric. It seems obvious today, but was not so in the early 1990s when it began evolving. We suggest that one reason for this was the early failure to make explicit the links between climate and the economy which we take more-or-less for granted today. Although, in 1990, the European Union and country governments would have known about their populations’ concern for jobs, they would not have linked it to climate change.

  • In other words the truth/frame/discourse shift has been made in relation, at least in part, to the EU accommodating the population’s core needs. Moreover, simply to make this accommodation, which is tantamount to recreating subjective reality, indicates a kind of diffuse, if often latent, power among the population.

  • Challenges especially (for this book) the basis of the ‘public will to know and act’ frame which we explored in Chap. 7. This frame ultimately places failures of individual citizens as the central problem where either we do not know because of inadequate communication of what the science has made clear about climate change, or we do not want to know because of socially organised denial. Hence we resist taking significant individual actions beyond limited consumer choices related, for example, to lowering individual carbon footprints, and are often antagonistic to government actions that concern climate change mitigation where this might affect us directly and negatively. Institutionalising lived experience, however, does not place the public and our limited knowledge as the central problem. Rather, the failure is one of not recognising lived experience as a legitimate form of knowledge, not understanding the epistemological limits of lived experiences and the sciences, and lack of meaningful engagement across the different forms.

  • Provides a peg for voicing other pressing social issues that could lead to a polycentric framing of the type advocated by Hulme (2009, 2010b) and others. We saw in Chap. 1 how it is in practice impossible to separate lived experience of climate change from these other issues. To do so might work as a heuristic device, for analytical purposes, but to most people everything is interconnected through their lived experiences. Those whose lived experiences are being institutionalised will not put a neat boundary to isolate the bit that says ‘of climate change’. They will raise these other issues that may be of greater importance to them personally. In doing so they will challenge the climate change frame of ‘the war’ of the twenty-first century. This reframing will be further reinforced, moreover, if people with very different lived experiences engage over social divides, where citizens come to understand the standpoints (Chap. 9, Box 9.1) of different social groups locally, nationally and internationally.

The above combine to form two overarching reasons that we advocate for institutionalising lived experience into policy making and intervention:


Through our institutionalised engagement we come to appreciate our human and human–nature interdependence (Smith et al. 2007) with respect to climate change and other social issues, where nobody by definition is absolutely powerless. From appreciation we may then construct the substantive meaning of our interdependence while avoiding deterministic exhortations such as: ‘We must stand together as a human race to fight the war of climate change’. Rather, through engagement of lived experiences across the world, we might construct new frames (for example the polycentric frame as above) for climate change and allow for creative meanings and even disagreement to evolve. We might also come to appreciate, not just the complementarity, but also the interdependence of different forms of knowledge in order to create new knowledge. We may construct these creative responses to interdependence through ‘learning with’ and empowering each other rather than the disempowering effects that the impending disaster narrative and its imperatives force on us (Ibid.).



We potentially challenge the status quo on climate change knowledge through developing a transboundary, social imagination among citizens and scientists alike. We have argued wherever pertinent in this book that the status quo, providing insights especially from the physical sciences, economics and sociology, has brought us a long way. It is not sufficient, however, to capture a full engagement with climate change, nor does it in the final analysis capture the human dimensions in terms of responses and impacts on lives.


For us, therefore, institutionalising lived experience in policy making provides a space for broad engagement. We are broadly in line with Cornwall’s (2002) description of spaces as opportunities, moments and channels where people can act to potentially affect policies, discourses, decisions and relationships that affect their lives and interests. Note the word ‘potentially’ in this description. While we are reasonably sure that they will exist, we are very unsure of what will take place in such a space. It is unpredictable and thus here we have presented only potential and positive possibility. One way of encapsulating the uncertainty that surrounds space is to think of the issues that we present in Sect. 10.3 below as one end of a spectrum, and the enactment of positive potential and possibility that we present here as the other end. Section 10.4, meanwhile, suggests forms of engagement that may provide the conditions for moving towards the positive end of the spectrum.

The starting question for this Sect. 10.2 was: ‘Why should we wish to institutionalise lived experience in policy debates about climate change?’ Having been through the diverse reasons that we have postulated for different groups, our summary answer is: it depends on who you ask. That answer might seem unhelpful, but a start has to be made somewhere. To move forward, everyone has to agree on one thing, which is that there is sufficient justification across a range of stakeholders for institutionalising lived experience as a legitimate form of knowledge in public policy debates about climate change. This provides a conceptual container within which the diverse interests of actors may be accommodated (Isaacs 1993; see also the same brief reference in Chap. 7) while recognising that, substantively, the different reasons for institutionalising lived experiential knowledge might often be complementary, but also sometimes in conflict and not made clear.

Conflicting reasons among stakeholders bring us to Sect. 10.3 and the issues and the problems that may arise through institutionalising lived experience in policy debates about climate change.

10.3 The Issues (and Problems) Associated with Institutionalising Lived Experience in Public Policy Debates About Climate Change

Some issues represent the opposite side of the coin to the potential that we suggested in Sect. 10.2. Others are different. Here we separate the issues (and problems) into three groups: issues of ‘getting real’; issues of creating the conditions for productive engagement with and between lived experiences; and finally the issue of social power even when lived experiences are institutionalised within climate change public policy debates.

10.3.1 ‘Getting Real’

In its ideal form, the space that opens when lived experience is institutionalised in policy making enables diverse lived experiences to engage with each other across social divides. Given that scientists also have lived experiences it also helps them to engage with each other across their disciplinary divides, and for the diverse lived experiences of citizens to engage with the diverse scientific disciplines. In practice, however, this plurality of engagement is almost certainly unrealistic, and probably impossible, to achieve. The logistics alone of both launching and sustaining such a space appear formidable. Even if it did occur, analysing and drawing together useful findings would represent a further major challenge.

Moreover, we can only know so much. The Harvard professor, Atul Gawande, commented in a 2014 interview with the London-based Financial Times: ‘The knowledge that exists to help people exceeds what you’re going to be able to hold in your head’ (Gawande 2014). This statement, moreover, constitutes the first thing that he would teach future doctors on their first day of class, but we may adapt it just as appropriately to climate change knowledge. Thus, the knowledge that we need to respond appropriately to the challenge of climate change exceeds what we are going to be able to hold in our heads.

We also can communicate verbally only so much, or as Michael Polanyi (1958) put it: ‘We know more than we can say’. This is because much of our knowledge is tacit, that is, it is felt rather than written down or codified, and is not easily passed to others. For Michael Polanyi, much of lived experience would be classified as tacit knowledge.

There are, therefore, inherent human limits to what we can both know and say, and we have to work within those limits. These observations in part explain why policy makers tend to prefer their evidence in the form of numbers (Adamson 2013). Numbers are a way of reducing complex factors embodied in evidence so that they are easily comprehensible and inform generalisations out of which policy and intervention may be specified (Abbott and Wilson 2014). They inherently categorise and therefore simplify complex phenomena, such as human responses to climate change. Lived experiences, however, require qualitative methodologies (Chap. 4, Sect. 4.5.1) as so much would be lost if we tried to turn them exclusively into numbers.
< div class='tao-gold-member'>

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue